fIREHOSE - Biography
The Minutemen are undoubtedly one of American punk rock’s greatest bands. Hailing from San Pedro, California, the trio flamed through the early 1980s boasting a serious work ethic, everyman style, fierce passion and infectious energy. In Mike Watt and George Hurley the band had one of the most dynamic and talented rhythm sections in all of post-punk. Sadly, Minutemen were cut short in the band’s prime after guitarist and singer D. Boon’s untimely death in late 1985. Watt and Hurley fell into despair after the death of their longtime friend and bandmate, with Watt claiming to lose interest in playing music altogether. Energy would return to the two in an odd way. Ed Crawford, a 21-year-old student and diehard Minutemen fan from Ohio, heard a false rumor that Watt and Hurley were auditioning guitarists for a new band. He showed up unannounced in San Pedro and convinced the former Minutemen to jam. Inspired by Crawford’s enthusiasm and passion, Watt and Hurley agreed to give it a second run and fIREHOSE was born.
The newly christened trio played its first show in June of ’86. That same year would bring a tour supporting Sonic Youth and the band’s debut full-length for the SST label, Ragin’, Full On. The album jumped right up from where Minutemen left off, blending daring musicianship with audacious punk attitude and passion. Watt and Hurley ensured that Minutemen’s avant-funk, elliptical post-punk and jazz influences held over while Crawford brought a more traditional, even folk bent to fIREHOSE. Crawford’s influence steered the music in a more traditional direction on songs like “Choose Any Memory” and “The Candle and the Flame.” With his tuneful singing and focused songwriting, fIREHOSE music crammed the unpredictability of Minutemen into an accessible format. Watt and Hurley still flexed hard on tracks like “Brave Captain,” “Relatin’ Dudes To Jazz” and “It Matters.” Watt’s then wife Kira Roessler (ex-Black Flag) co-wrote many of the album’s strongest tunes.
The following year brought the second fIREHOSE album. If’n expands on the band’s debut with more cohesive songwriting. Constant touring had made the trio tighter, as heard on tracks like “Anger” and “Honey Please.” Crawford’s country and folk influences come to the fore here with the beautiful “Backroads” and “In Memory Of Elizabeth Cotton.” Watt contributes several excellent tracks like fan favorite “Making The Freeway” and the soaring “Thunder Child.” If’n is the moment when fIREHOSE fully self-actualized, becoming its own band outside the large shadow of Minutemen. The record arguably ranks as the band’s best effort.
“Sometimes,” “Windmilling” and “Hear Me,” all taken from If’n, featured prominently in the Santa Cruz Skateboards video series Streets On Fire, making fIREHOSE a favorite with skate-punks everywhere. The band’s workhorse touring schedule ensured that it picked up a loyal fan base. ’88 also brought the three song Sometimes, Almost Always EP.
1989’s fROMOHIO picked up right where If’n left off, boasting the band’s signature blend of Crawford’s folk-rock and Watt’s muscular, punk-funk. The group’s playing is in fine form here, with highlights including the tough groove of Watt’s “Mas Cojones” and “What Gets Heard” as well as Crawford’s “Time With You” which MTV added to its video rotation. A strong folk influence is again at the fore with “Liberty For Our Friend” and an inventive rendering of the classic “Vastopol.” The record also drives home the fact that Hurley is one of the greatest drummers of his time with two short drum solos.
The band shocked quite a few people when it jumped to a major label for its fourth release. Columbia released Flyin’ The Flannel in 1991. Musically at least there was no need for worry. The band’s sound stayed true and the record features some of the greatest fIREHOSE songs. Watt seems to be in control on this one, turning in a spate of some of his finest songwriting on tracks like “Up Finnegan’s Ladder,” “O’er The Town Of Pedro,” “Anti-Misogyny Maneuver” and the infectious title track. Crawford shines on “Can’t Believe” and the laidback groove of “Toolin’.” Flyin’ The Flannel features perhaps the quintessential fIREHOSE song with queasy psych-jazz of “Epoxy, For Example.”
1993 brought two releases from the band. The first was the excellent Live Totem Pole EP. Featuring blazing versions of “Making The Freeway” and “What Gets Heard,” most of the record is comprised of covers by the likes of Wire, Public Enemy, Blue Oyster Cult, Superchunk and Butthole Surfers. Unfortunately the year’s second release would prove to be the band’s last. Mr. Machinery Operator makes for a fine close to a great band. Produced by Dinosaur Jr.’s J. Mascis the album boasts a raw and ragged feel. Watt sings on more songs than ever before, including highlights like “Formal Introduction,” “Herded Into Pools” and the searing “Rocket Sled/Fuel Tank.” Mascis, Nels Cline and Superchunk’s Mac McCaughan all contribute stunning guitar solos to several of the album’s best tracks and Crawford steals the show with his best ever song and arguably the album’s best track, “Blaze.”
After completing the 1994 tour in support of the album, Watt broke up the band with claims that he feared fIREHOSE was becoming too stale and predictable. All three members have remained active. Watt released several solo albums and continues to play in the longstanding bass duo Dos with Roessler. He also plays in Banyan with Jane’s Addiction drummer Stephen Perkins, in Unknown Instructors with Hurley and has been the bassist in recent Stooges reunion shows. Crawford toured as the guitarist for alt-country band Whiskeytown and continues to front the Ed Crawford Trio. Hurley plays in Vida with former Black Flag member Dez Cadena and has been the drummer on several Red Krayola records.